Jan 23, 2018
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
My name is Shirley, I am 57 years old, and I live with a condition known as dissociative identity disorder (DID, once known as multiple personality disorder).
I was diagnosed with DID in 1990 and have worked very hard for almost three decades to learn how to live with my alters, and to overcome the symptoms that have plagued me all my life.
Dissociative identity disorder is caused by severe and repeated trauma in early childhood. In my case, it was emotional, physical and sexual abuse by two family members whom I loved very much. Without going into too much technical lingo, I can explain DID as a coping mechanism that my young mind adopted to escape the overwhelming fear and anguish caused by my abusers.
These parts of my own personality took on lives of their own
Simply put, to get away from the things that were being perpetrated against my body, I would go elsewhere in my mind. Over time, my mind splintered off those memories which my alter ego states held, so that the central person, Shirley, could carry on with life and not go insane. These parts of my own personality (not strangers or demons) took on lives of their own and we weren’t aware of each other’s existence.
I had some strange things happen down through my first 29 years of life that I couldn’t explain. People would say I said or did things that I just didn’t remember. I can remember sitting as an eight-year-old girl, looking out my bedroom window and trying to comprehend one of these episodes. I finally decided I must have a bad memory, yes that explained it.
I didn’t understand that other people didn’t experience blackouts, lose time, or hear the voices of the others until I was into therapy for at least three months. That was my normal. How could I know differently?
Getting well from DID isn’t easy
I entered my first therapist’s office in February 1990. I had been experiencing flashbacks to episodes of abuse that I couldn’t reconcile, and had decided I must be losing my mind. Paula watched and spoke with me for almost three months before she announced that she believed it was safe to say I lived with dissociative identity disorder. I didn’t know what that meant, and after she explained it to me I was shocked. I asked her how she came to that decision, and she told me how she had noticed that I often mentally left her office, leaving my body either blank or with another alter in control. I knew that I had a great deal of difficulty remembering what had transpired in our discussions, in fact, I didn’t remember them at all most of the time.
Yet, this diagnosis devastated me.
Getting well from DID isn’t easy, nor is it something that will happen overnight. The damage done to my body, brain and mind was extensive.
My body is a wreck. I learned after beginning therapy, that I could not become pregnant due to damage done to my cervix and ovaries from the sexual abuse. I also have a horrendous neck injury caused during one of two physical abuse episodes, leaving me with severe arthritis in my neck. There are also several other physical problems that are believed to be linked to the abuse, such as breast cancer and stroke, which I have so far survived.
My brain is also damaged. I have a smaller hippocampus and amygdala than I should due to the constant flooding of my brain with hormones that readied me for the human fight, flight or freeze response. This affects my emotional regulation.
My mind was severely affected, in that I live not only with over 72 other alter ego states, but also with severe recurrent depression, and an anxiety disorder.
fight, fight, fight
The long-term effects of the abuse I suffered are enormous. However, I am determined to not only overcome as many of them as I can, but to thrive. It is the only revenge I can gain against the people who harmed me. I also am determined to earn my PhD in psychology, so I can teach at the university level. My goal is to teach a course on dissociative disorders and how to treat them.
My advice to anyone who has learned they have a dissociative disorder, especially one as severe as DID, is to fight, fight, fight! The road less taken is hard and long, but the rewards are enormous! I live a life of self-awareness and self-acceptance that many people cannot even fathom, and I love all of me. We are a family, my alters and I, and we honor and love life. Keep fighting, don’t give up, there is an end to it!